Preferred practice area - first or last seat?

Breeg345

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Mar 4, 2020
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Hi all, I'm due to start my TC in 2023 and I've got a few ideas about the practice areas I'm interested in ultimately qualifying into (mostly M&A and/or finance). Of course I'm sure my knowledge / opinions will become much more nuanced as I progress through my seats, but at the moment this is looking to me like the best fit for my interests and goals.

Knowing this, and also the fact that my firm offers international and/or client secondments (which I would also very much like to take part in - hence fewer practice areas I might get to experience as standard, London-based seats), when would you recommend doing my preferred seats; near the beginning or end of the TC?

On the one hand, doing them later in the TC might be better as I'm more experienced and my performance will be a bit fresher in the partners' minds when it comes to NQ decisions, but on the other, if I leave it to the last moment is there a risk of not getting the seat I want at all?
 

Jessica Booker

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Hi @Breeg345 - when it comes to rotations there will be other factors the firm will need to consider alongside your preferences (including everyone else's preferences!), which mean it might not be as straightforward as trying to engineer when you do specific seats. I would just make your preferences clear to the graduate development team, your training principal and any other main points of contact (e.g. supervisor/partner mentor). By the time you factor in any compulsory seats and if you want to also do a secondment, there is likely to be not much choice of "when" and it could be more a case of "if" these preferences happen.
 
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Breeg345

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Mar 4, 2020
169
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Hi @Breeg345 - when it comes to rotations there will be other factors the firm will need to consider alongside your preferences (including everyone else's preferences!), which mean it might not be as straightforward as trying to engineer when you do specific seats. I would just make your preferences clear to the graduate development team, your training principal and any other main points of contact (e.g. supervisor/partner mentor). By the time you factor in any compulsory seats and if you want to also do a secondment, there is likely to be not much choice of "when" and it could be more a case of "if" these preferences happen.
Ah makes sense, thank you! You're completely right, I'm sure there's a lot of factors that go into deciding who gets what seat and when, including, as you said, other trainees' preferences.

But say I decide that, e.g., M&A is (currently) the seat which seems most appealing to me. Would you recommend listing it as my preference in my first seat (knowing there's a chance I could get it now, when I've just joined the firm and am unfamiliar with how most things work), or saving it for later down the line, when I've got more experience etc. (but with the slight (?) risk that I might not end up getting to do it at all)?
 

Jessica Booker

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Aug 1, 2019
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I would recommend just listing it. You'll typically need to list multiple preferences at multiple stages anyway. It's unlikely you will just submit your choices at the start of the training contract or be able to only submit one preference per seat rotation.

If you want to sit in M&A, then its best to state this from the outset - you may not get your preferences for your first seat anyway, and if you also want to do a M&A secondment, you have limited opportunities to sit in this area anyway - there are only so many seats you can do, especially if the firm works to a traditional 4 x 6 month model.
 

George Maxwell

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Oct 25, 2021
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Hi all, I'm due to start my TC in 2023 and I've got a few ideas about the practice areas I'm interested in ultimately qualifying into (mostly M&A and/or finance). Of course I'm sure my knowledge / opinions will become much more nuanced as I progress through my seats, but at the moment this is looking to me like the best fit for my interests and goals.

Knowing this, and also the fact that my firm offers international and/or client secondments (which I would also very much like to take part in - hence fewer practice areas I might get to experience as standard, London-based seats), when would you recommend doing my preferred seats; near the beginning or end of the TC?

On the one hand, doing them later in the TC might be better as I'm more experienced and my performance will be a bit fresher in the partners' minds when it comes to NQ decisions, but on the other, if I leave it to the last moment is there a risk of not getting the seat I want at all?

Ah makes sense, thank you! You're completely right, I'm sure there's a lot of factors that go into deciding who gets what seat and when, including, as you said, other trainees' preferences.

But say I decide that, e.g., M&A is (currently) the seat which seems most appealing to me. Would you recommend listing it as my preference in my first seat (knowing there's a chance I could get it now, when I've just joined the firm and am unfamiliar with how most things work), or saving it for later down the line, when I've got more experience etc. (but with the slight (?) risk that I might not end up getting to do it at all)?
Hi @Breeg345,

So my thoughts on this differ slightly from Jessica. I will caveat this by saying this is purely a. the approach I would take and b. what I was told during my vacation schemes.

I have been told that it is not a good idea to list your first preference seat first. This is primarily because you are new to the firm, and are not in the best position to impress (i.e., you are likely to make mistakes etc.). In addition, different firms have different approaches here (for example, I have been told that A&O use an algorithm, whereas first seat trainees at other firms do not get to express a preference for their first seat). However, often firms will try to weight the preferences of 3rd/4th seaters over those earlier in their TC. Again, this will very much depend on the firm.

The approach that I would take is:

1. To reach out to trainees (or associates) on LinkedIn or elsewhere. Ask what approach they took and what they would recommend taking.
2. Ask GR what their policy is about weighting trainee preferences. This may also be available in the firm literature that you have been given etc.

Hope that helps 😇
 
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Jessica Booker

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In addition to George’s points, the things to consider are:

1) do you have to submit your preferences all up front and these can’t change (unlikely but I know of one firm that did this) vs can you change your mind with each rotation

2) how many seats you have

3) do you just submit department names, or do you have to rank them

4) if there are any compulsory seats you have to complete. Getting compulsory seats out the way early that you are less interested in, is probably the way to go.

5) what your TC might look like as a whole (rather than just individual seats).

I have lost count how many trainees did their first seat thinking it would be their least favourite, only to end up changing their direction completely, doing different seats than they expected and qualifying into their first seat’s team. So my advice is always about keeping an open mind unless you have subtantial experience across multiple departments before, and try not to over engineer this. There are so many variables, you are not going to be able to control it all and only partly influence it.
 
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George Maxwell

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That's very insightful actually, thank you both so much for the input! There's definitely a lot of factors to consider (and even more which will be out of your control as a trainee), you've definitely given me food for thought
@Breeg345 let us know what you end up doing!